Marketing & Media

The Flexitarian Strategy – Optimise Your Plant-Based Sales

Flexitarians, not vegans or vegetarians, are the primary target market for plant-based foods, comprising almost half of consumers in many countries and driving most plant-based purchases.[1] With this in mind, shifting focus from the niche vegan market (less than 4% of consumers) to flexitarians can tap into a market over 10 times larger.

In its latest New Food Hub article, ProVeg International shares actionable insights for brands and producers, food service businesses, and retailers looking to reach flexitarians.

Here, we’ll share strategies for brands and producers looking to optimise their plant-based sales.

Strategies for brands and producers

When your plant-based product is on a shelf with a hundred other products, how do you encourage a consumer to pick it up? It stems from good branding, marketing, packaging, and a great-tasting product.

Product formulation

  • Optimise taste and texture: 73% of plant-based products are purchased by omnivores and flexitarians whose primary motivation for buying and consuming plant-based foods is taste. The ingredients you select are vital – they must allow for the same juiciness, creaminess, flavour, and/or bite as the food you want to replicate. Continued product reformulation and development are paramount. Invest in the latest technology to ensure you produce alternatives that cater to consumers’ preferences and keep up with the competition.
  •  Account for comfort and familiarity: To ensure broad appeal, focus on plant-based products that replicate consumer favourites of animal-based products (e.g. scrambled tofu instead of eggs, ‘chick’n’ pieces instead of chicken). Almost two-thirds of consumers prefer products similar to foods they already know.[2] At the same time, flexitarians are looking to reduce their meat intake. This creates a natural opportunity for plant-based alternatives to satisfy consumers’ traditional taste and texture requirements while meeting flexitarian preferences for healthier and more sustainable foods.

Marketing

  • Emphasise taste: Because flexitarian consumers are primarily driven by taste, plant-based brands must win over their taste buds before winning over their wallets. “Marketing plays a key role in consumer acceptance,” explains Jeanine Ammann, Research Associate at Agroscope. “To reach flexitarian consumers, it’s better to promote a vegetarian dish as tasty instead of highlighting that it is vegetarian.” Remember, you’re battling flexitarian fears of missing out – it’s super important to counter this with positive messaging about the taste benefits of plant-based food, so focus on indulgence. On marketing materials, prioritise the taste credentials of your product, over everything else.
  • Collaborate with social media influencers: Connecting with influencers who match your brand values can increase your visibility, expand your market reach, and reinforce your brand’s identity and credibility. Aim to build meaningful relationships with influencers on social media, then give them some free products to sample. They’ll spread the word about you to their followers if you’re a good fit. This will open the door to further collaborations, such as creating shared recipes or co-hosted launch events. These efforts will cumulatively grow your brand’s audience and market share – with up to 11 times more impact than conventional social-media advertising. For detailed examples of brands and retailers using these methods effectively, check out ProVeg’s white paper, How to work with influencers to reach key consumers.
A social media influencer
Image courtesy of ProVeg International

Packaging design

  • Don’t use negative descriptors: Research shows that terms like ‘meatless’ or ‘meat-free’ tend to put off mixed-eaters looking for something that properly replicates meat. One study in a leading supermarket in the UK found: “Sales of two dishes increased 76% when ‘meat-free’ was removed from the dishes’ names and replaced with a more appealing one. It’s counterproductive to communicate that a food is ‘free’ of meat if the goal is to appeal to more meat-eaters.”[3]
  • Do use language that vividly describes the product’s flavour, look, feel, and provenance: Remember, you’re selling a sensory experience, and consumers make purchases primarily based on their perceived taste. Make it sound appealing! For example, in a market test, Panera Bread switched the name of its ‘Low Fat Vegetarian Black Bean Soup’ to ‘Cuban Black Bean Soup.’ This easy swap resulted in a 13% increase in sales of the black bean soup in trial locations.[4] Additionally, evoke familiarity by using traditional terms (where regulations allow, i.e. ‘sausage’ or ‘milk’).
  • Don’t say vegan: ProVeg recommends avoiding the word ‘vegan’ on the front of product packaging. By using this word, you appeal to less than 4% of the population. In contrast, ‘100% plant protein‘ has been touted as a label with chief appeal. It subtly conveys the plant-based message, whilst stimulating consumer associations with health and satisfaction through its focus on protein.[5] Use a V-Label on the back of product packaging – this is perceived as a stamp of quality and conveys a product’s plant-based nature subtly but effectively.
Noodle dish
Image courtesy of ProVeg International

Multifaceted approach

Targeting flexitarians presents a lucrative opportunity for brands and producers in the plant-based industry. With flexitarians comprising a substantial portion of consumers and driving most plant-based purchases, focusing on this demographic can unlock a market much larger than the niche vegan market.

ProVeg’s insights offer actionable strategies for optimising plant-based sales, emphasising the importance of product formulation, marketing, and packaging design tailored to flexitarian preferences. But that’s not all – read the full article to uncover the remaining insights for brands and producers.

Are you in retail or food service? You can uncover insights relevant to your work by reading the full article on the New Food Hub.

For more support on your plant-based strategy, contact ProVeg’s expert team at [email protected].


[1] Evolving appetites: an in-depth look at European attitudes towards plant-based eating, (2023). The Smart Protein project. Available at: Evolving appetites: an in-depth look at European attitudes towards plant-based eating – Smart Protein Project. Accessed 2024-03-20.

[2] ProVeg International (2020): European consumer survey on plant-based foods. Available at: https://proveg.com/what-we-do/corporate-engagement/proveg-consumer-survey-report download/ Accessed 2021-10-08

[3] It’s all in a name: how to boost the sales of plant-based menu items, (2019). World Resources Institute. Available at:https://www.wri.org/insights/its-all-name-how-boost-sales-plant-based-menu-items. Accessed 2023-10-11

[4]  It’s all in a name: how to boost the sales of plant-based menu items, (2019). World Resources Institute. Available at:https://www.wri.org/insights/its-all-name-how-boost-sales-plant-based-menu-items. Accessed 2023-10-11

[5] How to drive plant-based food purchasing, (2019). GFI. Available at: https://gfi.org/images/uploads/2019/10/GFI-Mindlab-Report-Implicit-Study_Strategic_Recommendations.pdf. Accessed 2023-10-09

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